From tomato gardens to mattresses to small Dutch-speaking islands, we hide money in the strangest of places.

New York City Estate & Trust Litigation Lawyers Antonelli & Antonelli (1)

My grandmother was from the old country. She didn’t trust banks, so she kept her savings under her mattress. She stored petty cash in a bean can hidden in the pantry. And, sure enough, the money was still there after she passed. Many of us have heard stories of relatives hiding money in the tomato garden or behind the living room oil painting. But think of all the stashes that remain undiscovered. Is there a way to make sure none of this money slips through the cracks?

Safe keeping our money has changed a lot over the years. Today, our money is floating around everywhere. In addition to traditional bank and brokerage accounts, how much do you have in your PayPal or Venmo account right now? Do you have unused credit at your favorite retailer? Know anyone with funds sitting in an investment app like Robinhood? And of course, some people are purposely hiding their money in off-shore accounts, intricately layered investments, or crypto-currency. Modern-day hiding spots pose big challenges for executors trying to collect decedents’ assets.

Some people are well organized and make it easy for their executors to identify and locate their assets. However, many people keep much, if not all, of this information private, leaving their executors to search for the money. In either case, an executor is responsible for collecting all the assets, so it’s critical to know where to look.

Here Are 11 Ways To Dig Up The Tomatoes And Unearth The Cash.

1. Search the decedent’s personal effects

Every search begins at home. An executor should look through the decedent’s personal items, especially desks, file cabinets, safes, and other places where important papers and other items might be stored. Set aside anything of value and any financial or ownership documents. Keep an eye out not just for asset information but also for information that could lead to an asset such as the name of the decedent’s accountant or the address of a bank where a safe deposit box might be kept. And don’t forget to look behind the paintings, under the mattress, and in the tomato garden.

2. Forward the decedent’s mail

Simple, yet effective. If you don’t have immediate access to the decedent’s home, forward the mail so you’ll receive any statements, 1099s, or other information relating to assets of which you might not have been aware. Also consider accessing the decedent’s email address—but this is far trickier than forwarding the mail.

3. Contact confidants

Once you’ve found the name and phone number of Grandma’s accountant scribbled onto the back of an envelope, call them up to gather as much information as you can. This applies to all confidants including lawyers, financial planners, business partners, etc. who could have asset information. Think outside the box. If Grandma enjoyed the ponies, don’t forget the OTB.

4. Request tax transcripts

The taxman cometh. If Grandma kept her earnings above board, most assets will be revealed on her tax transcripts, which show all reported income sources, including big hits in Atlantic City, where casinos are required to issue 1099s for all payouts over a certain amount.

5. Search for unclaimed funds and abandoned property

A simple search for unclaimed funds and abandoned property can be done on the website of the New York State Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds. Online resources are also available for unclaimed funds outside New York.

We helped a client collect over 100k just by typing the decedent’s name into the NYS unclaimed funds website!

6. Search for Lost Insurance Policies

If an insurance policy is lost in New York State, does it make a sound? Probably not. But if the premium keeps getting paid and the policy is in effect at the time of death, it does pay out. So, make sure Grandma didn’t leave behind an insurance policy that she never mentioned, and search the NYS Lost Policy Finder. If Grandma was a veteran, be certain to search the US Department of Veterans Affairs

7. Search the Automated City Register Information System

The boroughs of New York City make property records available through the Automated City Register Information System, known as ACRIS. You can conduct a name search to determine what real property was owned by the decedent. However, some older property records are not available online and instead require an in-person trip to the Office of the City Register.

8. Contact employers

Many of us work so we can retire comfortably, so it’s no surprise to find that a significant portion of many estates consists of retirement accounts and pensions. Contact the decedent’s employers to search for information leading to these potential assets.

9. Search for retirement benefits

If the decedent’s employers don’t have information on retirement benefits, try the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, a government agency that protects retirements security and income. You can search for retirement benefits owed to the decedent or the decedent’s beneficiaries.

10. Closed banks

One of the lesser-known resources is the FDIC’s version of unclaimed funds. When a financial institution is closed, and the FDIC is appointed as a receiver, the FDIC arranges for payment to each depositor of insured funds. If a decedent didn’t collect his or her money at the time the financial institution was closed, the executor might be able to collect it by visiting the FDIC website.

11. Private investigators

When all else fails, contact a professional. Your estate attorney can guide you through the resources mentioned above, but sometimes an executor has reason to believe additional unidentified or unlocated assets exist. In those cases, in may be time to bring in the PI.

Do You Need Help Possibly Finding Estate Assets?

Antonelli & Antonelli has helped many clients identify, locate, and collect estate assets. If you have been appointed as an estate representative and need help, contact us online or call our New York City office directly at 212.227.2424 today. We proudly serve clients in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Westchester County and throughout  New York as well as northern New Jersey.

Jessica E. Escobar
Helping clients in New York and New Jersey with various probate, administration and estate litigation matters.
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